Barry Booth — “He’s Very Good With His Hands”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 12, 2022


548) Barry Booth — “He’s Very Good With His Hands”

Before “The Lumberjack Song”, before “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, before Monty Python, there was an “ode to a shy but dexterous model maker who is taken by a girl, but more at home with his wooden trains and aeroplanes.” ( Michael Palin and Terry Jones collaborated with Barry Booth, writing the lyrics to “a commercial flop [that] over the years . . . has gained a cult following and a reputation as a lost classic of British psychedelic chamber pop.” (

Pop Geek Heaven tell us that:

Barry Booth is a most unlikely artist to have recorded one of the great lost chamber pop albums of the ’60s. When . . . Diversions!, was released in 1968, he was already thirty years old and had never recorded an album or even a single as an artist. Indeed, he had never intended to record Diversions! either. He was merely hoping to place some of the songs with other artists. That is, until iconic British producer Tony Hatch (The Searchers, Petula Clark, Jackie Trent) fell in love with the material and insisted that Booth record the album. Further evidence of his reticence is the fact he never again recorded as an artist . . . . Booth’s roots were in classical music and he studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in the late ’50s. Though accomplished, he was not a virtuoso pianist and, following a stint in the National Service playing in military orchestras and dance bands, Booth began to work as the bandleader for Roy Orbison in the mid-’60s. While working with Orbison, he began to collaborate with two young actors and comedians, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, whom he had met while working as the musical director for the British television series Five O’Clock Club. Booth commissioned the future Pythons to write some lyrics which Booth would then set to music. The resulting songs provided the entirety of the material on Diversions!. Booth brought some of the songs to Orbison and later to Hatch. While Orbison passed, Hatch was charmed by both the material and by Booth’s restrained and heartfelt vocal style. He talked Booth into recording the songs himself, with Booth arranging and conducting and Hatch producing. . . . The lyrics are whimsical, typically narrative, and often reflect a British Music Hall sensibility. . . . Two singles were released . . . [including] “He’s Very Good With His Hands” b/w “The King’s Thing” . . . . [It did not] chart[], though [it] was played by John Peel’s on his popular Top Gear show. . . . adds:

[At] the Royal Academy of Music in London. . . . [Booth] studied composition, harmony . . . counterpoint . . . and pianoforte . . . while flouting the Academy’s rules by playing professionally in the city’s jazz clubs by night. . . . In the early 1960s he worked on back-to-back national pop tours, as a bandleader and piano player for various acts including . . . Roy Orbison . . . .

[H]e put his classical training at the service of one of the support acts when he offered a simple solution to a vocal harmony line they were having trouble figuring out. He proposed that they use an inverted pedal-point, sustaining a single high note in harmony with the descending melody line. The proposal was accepted and consequently can be heard in the verses of the Beatles’ early hit Please Please Me. (Many years later, Elvis Costello would remember noticing it as a 9 year old boy. As described in Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four, he ‘listened intently to the disc as his father played it over and over again. He was startled by the vocal harmony line; the second singer seemed to be singing the same note repeatedly against the lead singer.’)

Orbison, the original inspiration for that song, was sufficiently impressed by Booth’s abilities to hire him as his musical director and piano player in his backing band . . . taking him on tours of Europe and North America. Booth first entered the US illegally, smuggled by Orbison over the Canadian border in the boot of a car after a work permit had failed to arrive on time. Booth continued to serve Orbison in this position for several years, before going on to enjoy a long career as a highly versatile musical director, arranger, composer and pianist . . . .

Diversions! consisted of musical settings of fourteen lyrics he had commissioned from two young writers he’d worked with in television: Michael Palin and Terry Jones . . . . Pitching the songs to producer Tony Hatch in the hope of landing them with established singers, Booth had inadvertently landed a deal to record them himself. . . . [It] is an example of how ambitious and inventive popular music was becoming at the time . . . . It is uniquely charming, whimsical, often cryptic and sometimes slightly sinister . . . .

Check out the site’s new page: Stick It to the (Fish)Man: Feedback — the coolest comments I have received!

I have added a Facebook page for Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock! If you like what you read and hear and feel so inclined, please visit and “like” my Facebook page by clicking here.

Pay to Play! The Off the Charts Spotify Playlist! + Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock Merchandise

Please consider helping to support my website/blog by contributing $6 a month for access to the Off the Charts Spotify Playlist. Using a term familiar to denizens of Capitol Hill, you pay to play! (“relating to or denoting an unethical or illicit arrangement in which payment is made by those who want certain privileges or advantages in such arenas as business, politics, sports, and entertainment” —

The playlist includes all the “greatest songs of the 1960’s that no one has ever heard” that are available on Spotify. The playlist will expand each time I feature an available song.

All new subscribers will receive a Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock magnet. New subscribers who sign up for a year will also receive a Brace for the Obscure 60s Rock t-shirt or baseball cap. See pictures on the Pay to Play page.

When subscribing, please send me an e-mail ( or a comment on this site letting me know an e-mail address/phone number/Facebook address, etc. to which I can send instructions on accessing the playlist and a physical address to which I can sent a magnet/t-shirt/baseball cap. If choosing a t-shirt, please let me know the gender and size you prefer.

Just click on the first blue block for a month to month subscription or the second blue block for a yearly subscription.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: